Canada: Quebec's Updated Act Respecting Labour Standards Presents New Challenges For Employers

On March 20, 2018, Quebec's Minister responsible for Labour, Dominique Vien, presented Bill 176: An Act to amend the Act respecting labour standards and other legislative provisions mainly to facilitate family-work balance (Bill) in the Quebec National Assembly. Despite numerous announcements promising a major restructuring of labour standards, the Bill does not overhaul the Act respecting labour standards (Act) to the extent anticipated.

If the Bill is passed, Quebec employers can expect the following major changes.

DIFFERENCES IN TREATMENT – PENSION PLANS

The Bill prohibits any distinction with respect to pension plans or other employee benefits that affects employees performing similar tasks in the same establishment, if the distinction is made solely on the basis of a hiring date. This change would not apply retroactively to distinctions which existed the day prior to the Bill coming into force, which date is yet to be determined.

The Bill also establishes a specific remedy against such differences in treatment. An employee must file a complaint with the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) or the Administrative Labour Tribunal (ALT) within 90 days of becoming aware of the distinction. Employees subject to a collective agreement or a decree may file a complaint with the CNESST if they demonstrate that they have not exercised any recourse arising from the applicable collective agreement or decree or that, having done so, they discontinued proceedings before a final decision was rendered.

If the ALT considers that the employee has been the victim of a prohibited distinction, it may render any decision it believes fair and reasonable, including an order that an employee be made a member of a pension plan.

PLACEMENT AND RECRUITMENT AGENCIES

All placement or recruitment agencies for temporary foreign workers will need to hold a licence issued by the CNESST. Through regulation, the Quebec government may:

  • Determine what constitutes a personnel placement agency, recruitment agency for temporary foreign workers, client enterprise and temporary foreign worker
  • Establish classes of licences
  • Determine the period of validity of a licence and specify any related conditions
  • Prescribe administrative measures and the obligations of a client enterprise that retains the services of an agency.

The Bill also sets out that a personnel placement agency may not remunerate an employee at a lower wage rate than that granted to the employees of the client enterprise who perform similar tasks in the same establishment solely because of the employee's employment status. The Bill renders placement agencies and enterprise clients jointly and severally liable for the monetary obligations determined by the Act or regulations.

The Bill also imposes various obligations on employers of temporary foreign workers.

OTHER CHANGES

Salary

An employer will no longer be able to remunerate an employee at a lower wage rate than that granted to its other employees who perform similar tasks in the same establishment solely because of the employee's employment status or because the employee typically works fewer hours per week, even if the employee makes more than twice the minimum wage.

The Bill now mentions the possibility of paying by cheque or bank transfer.

Work Schedule

The Bill allows employers and employees to a agree, for a period no longer than six months, to stagger working hours on a basis other than a weekly basis without the authorization of the CNESST if certain conditions are met.

Furthermore, under the Bill, the number of supplementary hours that employees must accept to work beyond their regular daily working hours will be reduced to two and will allow them to refuse to work supplementary hours if not notified of their work schedule at least five days in advance, in certain circumstances.

Holidays

The Bill requires employers to pay an indemnity for holidays if an employee is on vacation during said holidays or if such a day does not coincide with the employee's regular work schedule.

Vacation

Employees who at the end of a reference year, have three years of continuous service with the same employer, will be entitled to three consecutive weeks of vacation instead of two weeks. In addition, the Bill integrates into the Act the current practice of many employers by allowing the payment of vacation pay according to the applicable terms for the payment of the employee's regular salary.

Absences Owing to Sickness, Organ or Tissue Donations, Accidents or Criminal Offences

Under the Bill, an employee may also be absent from work without pay for a period of no more than 26 weeks over a period of 12 months owing to domestic violence of which the employee has been a victim, in addition to the other reasons that are already established. The Bill further provides that any employee can benefit from these periods of absence and the first two days of absence for these reasons, each year, will be paid if the employee has three months of continuous service.

Family or Parental Leave and Absences

The Bill expands the definition of "parent" provided in the Act to include people belonging to a "blended family" and any person to whom the employee provides assistance and care because of their health status and for whom the employee is entitled to benefits in accordance with a law.

The Bill will now allow any employee to be absent from work for 10 days per year to fulfil obligations relating to the care, health or education of the employee's child or the child of a relative or of a person for whom the employee is a caregiver. The first two days of absence each year for such reasons will be paid if the employee has three months of continuous service.

The Bill increases the period during which an employee may be absent up to: (i) 27 weeks over a period of 12 months due a serious and potentially mortal illness of a relative; (ii) 36 weeks over a period of 12 months due to a serious illness or serious accident involving a minor child; and (iii) 16 weeks over a period of 12 months due to a serious illness or a serious accident of any other relative.

The Bill makes various other changes to the Act that relate to absences and leave in the event of a death.

Psychological and Sexual Harassment

The Bill clarifies that verbal comments, actions or gestures of a sexual nature are included in the notion of psychological harassment and requires employers to adopt a psychological harassment prevention and complaint processing policy and make it available to their employees. Finally, where a complaint is received concerning behaviour of a sexual nature, the CNESST shall notify the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse without delay.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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